Giving life flavor, warmth at SerendipiTea

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Linda Villano of Manhasset, Soma Curreri of Queens, Jennifer Villano of Manhasset and Chris Villano of Manhasset in the storefront of SerendipiTea. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

It could only be serendipity that a tea importer would think to call itself SerendipiTea, according to co-owner Linda Villano.

“The word serendipity means ‘happening across happy accidents,’ but what a lot of people don’t realize is that the origin of the words was in Sri Lanka, one of the world’s largest tea producers,” Villano said. “But before Sri Lanka, it was known as Ceylan, and before it was Ceylan, it was the Isle of Serendip. So the company name itself is rooted in tea.”

Villano, a Manhasset native, co-founded SerendipiTea in 1995 with her late husband Tomislav Podreka, a former president of the American Tea Institute and author of “Serendipitea: A Guide to the Varieties, Origins, and Rituals of Tea.”

After Podreka’s death in 2004, Villano enlisted her siblings, brother Chris and sister Jennifer, to assist in the business, and moved from their first Long Island City, Queens location to their current Plandome Road storefront in 2007.

The storefront houses a front room where all blends are displayed, storerooms where tea is blended and packaged, and a cupping room where tea is prepared for serving.

The company’s original tea blends, which have won them dozens of awards over the years, are now created by Culinary Institute of America graduate Chris, with Villano providing them with names ranging from Chaucer’s Cup, resembling a British cider, to Fellini’s Folly, seeking to evoke the Italy of film director Federico Fellini, to Chocolate A-Peel, made with cacao and orange peel.

Straight teas like black, green, yellow and oolong are all in stock, too.

“We basically consider tea part of the food world, and the fact that it’s so good for you and has these health benefits is a plus, but we deal with it as a culinary item,” Villano said.

SerendipiTea conducts the majority of its business wholesale with restaurants and cafes, Villano says, with products also available for retail online for customers.

“We’ve had the good fortune of being in New York, which is a restaurant Mecca, and having an in-road to where the bulk of our tea goes,” Villano said.

SerendipiTea also works with nonprofits like City Harvest, Island Harvest, Water Aid, the Peace Corps, Just Food, the Animal Alliance of New Jersey, Kiva and Green America, most of which have a tea dedicated in their name that will provide a portion of proceeds to the named not-for-profit.

When it comes time for each of the siblings to unwind on a cold December day, Jennifer likes a gaba oolong with jasmine phoenix pearls, while Chris opts for Faux Cocoa and Villano for Darjeeling, 2nd Flush – just three of the dozens of teas available to patrons.

“When people say, ‘Oh, I don’t like tea,’ we’ll challenge them and say ‘really?'” Villano said. “There are just so many that most haven’t been exposed to yet.”

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